Tuesday, March 22, 2011


As many of my readers are no doubt aware, I'm currently preparing to go back to school this fall in order to get my MBA.  The latest step in the process has been choosing a school, and it's been a hard decision.  Each of my options had a lot to recommend it, which, as my future father-in-law very helpfully pointed out, meant that there was no wrong choice to make.  That didn't make the decision any easier, but it did take most of the stress out of it.

Faced with a decision between three good options, I did what any military intelligence veteran and prospective MBA would do: I made a spreadsheet.  I compiled a list of competing criteria, including everything from program rankings and student body attitudes to proximity of family and friends and survivability in a civilizational-collapse scenario.  I rated each school on these criteria as impartially as possible, then ranked the criteria by subjective importance to me, had my fiancée do the same*, and multiplied the average of our rankings by the schools' ratings to come up with a value-weighted score for each school.  And of course, my approach failed completely, leaving two of the three schools perfectly tied.

What next?  Time to cook the books.  I went back through the theoretically impartial ratings columns and adjusted them until one school started to pull ahead.  Was I intentionally tipping the balance toward one school?  Probably, but even in that case, my spreadsheet still did its job by revealing to me which school I truly most wanted to attend.  And what was the result?  Well, I'm happy to announce that I am now officially a member of the Wisconsin School of Business Grainger Center for Supply Chain Management Class of 2013.

It is a bit ironic, since I had initially considered it my third-place school, and I nearly didn't bother to finish the application after I was admitted to the school I had considered my number two.  I only went to the interview and class visit out of a grudging sense of obligation to finishing what you start, but was so impressed during that visit that it suddenly became the school to beat.  In the end, it was the only program I felt like I would regret missing if I went somewhere else, and that's what ultimately tipped the scales.  I guess it's a good lesson in not closing doors or burning bridges.

So Madison-area friends, see you soon! And Chicago and Twin Cities friends, we'll only be a few hours away, and we're planning to have a guest room.

*My fiancée's independent prioritization of school selection criteria was nearly identical to mine.  I'd say that's a good sign, no?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Against Intervention

Opinions regarding the proper response to the situation in Libya cut across partisan lines, with the full spectrum from not-our-problem isolationism to something-must-be-done interventionism represented on both sides.  The Right is convinced President Obama's handling it poorly, of course, but there's nothing approaching a consensus about what ought to be done.  The confusion is clear at the conservative flagship National Review, whose editorial now supports a no-fly zone (though they initially opposed it) opposite a column from Victor Davis Hanson (one of the preeminent cheerleaders of the Iraq invasion) who opposes intervention.

It's appropriate that opinions are all over, I suppose.  It's a fraught question.  As VDH sums up the humanitarian argument,

Libyans have been living an ungodly nightmare since Qaddafi’s coup in 1969, and it would be a fine and noble thing to lend them a hand to end their four-decade-long misery. The world would be a better and safer place without Qaddafi and his odious clan in power.
 Yes.  But Qaddafi will have to be replaced.  There is simply no indication that there is any significant core of individuals among the rebels who would be any better, and it is a deeply dangerous folly to suggest that things could not get any worse.  Libya's modern history -- a lawless span of coast that nobody else wanted, so the Italians got it -- uncomfortably parallels Somalia's.  And the probably-doomed rebels?  Well, they're the enemy of our enemy, but it's not at all clear that they're our friends:

On a per capita basis, though, twice as many foreign fighters came to Iraq from Libya -- and specifically eastern Libya -- than from any other country in the Arabic-speaking world. Libyans were apparently more fired up to travel to Iraq to kill Americans than anyone else in the Middle East.
It would be whistling in the dark to suppose that whatever demographic cohort sent so many to fight and die in Iraq is not also front-and-center in the ranks of the rebels we are currently debating whether to support.  The most cynical part of me might support a no-fly zone simply to even things up, to prevent this struggle from ending before it has worn down both sides.  Like the Iran-Iraq war, it's a war you wish both sides could lose.  Sadly, the real losers, as always, are the Libyan people, the majority of whom are by all accounts friendly, hospitable, and desirous of rational government.  

I wish there were an easy answer, but there just isn't.  This is the world we live in.  Foreign policy is really hard.  As I've mentioned before, my biggest concern about President Obama at his inauguration was that he seemed convinced that foreign policy is easy and everyone else had just been doing it wrong.  He does seem at least to have been disabused of that notion.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Free Story Concept: Super Bowl Anti-History

While watching the Super Bowl on Sunday (Packers won the Super Bowl! Packers won the Super Bowl! Packers won the Super Bowl!), I was struck by a thought during the ads for commemorative Super Bowl champions gear.  I'm sure that these days they do most of the printing to order, but there's still a non-trivial amount of swag printed with the losing team as champion, "Dewey Defeats Truman"-style.  It's a fair guess that all the Super Bowl XLV Champion Pittsburgh Steelers sweatshirts then get dumped on the second-hand clothing market and ends up in the developing world.  So there's my trope, free for the taking: all the "Super Bowl Champion" commemorative swag in the developing world tells an anti-history of the Super Bowl.  Someone could make something of that.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Project: Fish Tank Stand Bookshelf

I recently decided that while I'm happily unemployed, I can occupy my time by making myself some things that I will find useful in the future.  The fact that I currently have my father's well-appointed garage workshop available is another incentive, as is the desire to develop my basic woodworking skills in the more challenging realm of furniture-making.

For my first big project, I settled on something that will accommodate a small portion of my absurd private library, as well as display a pursuit of mine that I don't think has come up before, tropical fish.  This was also my opportunity to learn how to use Google Sketchup.  Here's what I came up with:

The thin lines on the lower portion are dowels which will support the bookshelves.  You may notice I neglected to include them on the rear verticals; Sketchup was giving me fits with the cylinders. The shelf above the tank will hold a deep tray for plants, with growlights for them mounted in the topmost frame.  I don't know yet what I'm going to do for a finish.  I'm leaning toward a dark stain to try to minimize the "clearly-made-from-2x4s" look, but I might just embrace that, put on a clear poly coat and use shiny hardware all over it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Dinner: Sausage and Spinach White Bean Soup

This is an original creation that worked out pretty well for a quick weeknight meal.  I know dried beans taste way better and are a lot cheaper bla bla bla, but they also require something in exceedingly short supply for a lot of people: planning.  You want to make it with dried beans, I'm not going to stop you.  For the rest of us, here goes (sorry, no pictures):

2 fresh bratwurst
1 medium onion 
1 box (9 oz) frozen chopped spinach
2 cans (15 oz) navy or great northern beans
1/2 tsp caraway seed
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp lemon juice (adjust to taste)
salt to taste

Squeeze the sausage out of their casings into a medium saucepan over low heat, breaking it up as it starts to brown.  Chop the onion.  Add to saucepan and increase to medium heat, continuing to break up sausage as it cooks until onions are translucent and sausage is well browned.  If you've had the foresight to thaw the spinach, add it to the saucepan now.  If you haven't, no worries, just put it in the pan frozen, cover it, turn the heat down low, and wait a few minutes until your spinach block thaws.  Add the beans and enough water or stock to bring it to the consistency you prefer.  Heat to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or so.  Add lemon juice and salt to taste.  Enjoy.

30 minutes or so.  Serves 3-4 as a meal, more as a soup course.

A New Direction?

I've been having a hard time deciding whether I really have a reason to keep blogging. While I'm as plugged into politics as ever, I really don't have the expertise to justify opining about much, and Facebook has really become my venue for the daily heylookitthats. For that matter, my blog reliably gets more comments on Facebook than on the website. So instead of kicking myself that I really ought to be commenting on this or that world event (cough cough Egypt cough), I'm going to be blogging things that do matter to me personally: daily life observations, recipes, projects I'm working on around the house, that sort of thing. Dretful scorn will, of course, continue to be in the offing. It'll still be irregular and haphazard, but that's life.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Hello, friends. Long time, no see, I know.

I'm currently working on applications to business schools, which means I've been writing a lot of essays.  Tonight I was working on an essay about a time in my life when I took a risk.  I'm going to have to do some major revision in the morning, but I think this is too good not to share, even in its rough state.  Let this be an object lesson of the risks of writing application essays late into the night:

When a paratrooper is asked about risks he’s taken, the immediate thoughts are of risks quite concrete, of literal leaps of faith out the doors of perfectly good airplanes, but I don’t expect anyone wants to read about all the routine parachute jumps I remember.  Rather more interesting is the jump I can’t remember, the one that nearly killed me, but since everything I know about that jump is hearsay, I don’t feel right repeating that, either.  I took more than a few risks in Iraq, too, some for better reasons than others.  I took a risk every time I entrusted my life to a complete stranger with a GED and an ASVAB waiver, but in a combat zone that’s a risk common enough to become banal.  It was a greater risk when I entrusted my safety to Iraqi soldiers who might well have been al-Qaeda sympathizers, if not active members, but that’s how building legitimacy works, and anyway, I had orders to follow.  So maybe it’s more useful to take a couple steps back and look at the first big risk I took, the one that got me into the Army in the first place.

Unlike most servicemembers, the military wasn’t something that loomed large in my family background. The last contact my family had had with the Department of Defense was my grandfather’s service in the occupation of Japan, and I made it to my senior year of college without ever considering military service a plausible option.  I was on a solid path to an undistinguished but comfortable career in academia when a visit to the Commonwealth cemetery at the World War II battlefield of el-Alamein, Egypt, challenged my assumptions about my role in the world and planted the seeds of my dissatisfaction with the prospect of a sedentary academic life.  As I approached graduation seeking opportunities for intensive applied language training, I was pointed again and again toward the military’s language training program.  I looked into what the military language program had to offer, and something just clicked.  It all made perfect sense: I would enlist in the US Army as an Arabic linguist and make my career as a military man.  All that stood in my way was the minor practical matter that I was 70 pounds overweight and so desperately out of shape I couldn’t run a quarter of a mile without stopping.

The reality of weight loss and exercise is irredeemably dull, and if this essay were a movie, this sentence would no doubt be replaced by an eighties-rock montage.  Suffice it to say that over the course of the summer following my college graduation, I had lost weight and gained stamina sufficient for me to ship off to Basic Training in the fall.  I arrived at Fort Knox with absolutely no context or outline of what to expect beyond the vague Hollywood conception of “Boot Camp”, and faced a culture shock more extreme than any I ever felt circumnavigating the globe.  I had joined the US Army as an Arabic linguist during the darkest period of the Iraq war.  I knew where I was headed.  What it would take to get there was a bit hazier.

I realize I’m writing an essay, not trading war stories at the VFW, so I suppose I should get to the point: what I learned from taking my big risk.  I learned a bunch of little things, only some of which are motivational poster cliches:  Meritocracy is the ideal, but patronage is the reality.  Compliance is generally valued higher than competence.  Always, always, always pay your mercenaries.  I also learned a few big things: I am capable of working harder and enduring more than I ever thought possible.  Individualism is bunk; my proudest moments have been as a cog in the best machine.  And the antithesis of fear is not courage, but trust in the man ahead of you and behind you.